"I am Chinese"

By Jacob Shan (
Updated: 2011-03-11 14:47
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After the riots in Libya, the lives and safety of nearly 36,000 Chinese citizens tugged at the heart strings of all Chinese people. As of March 2, a total of 35,860 have been evacuated from Libya. The mission described as China's largest-scale evacuation is really impressive. I had the opportunity to participate in the rescue efforts, a once-in-a-lifetime experience I will never forget.

As a senior marine surveyor from the Athens Branch of CCS (China Classification Society), I volunteered to be a member of the on-board supporting working group (SWG.) to help evacuate Chinese nationals via Crete, an island about 300 nautical miles from Libya. My wife also decided to join the resue efforts. At 23:30 on Feb 22, we received the order to board the F/P El Venizelos, a luxury ferry engaged in voyages between Greece and Italy in summertime. To ensure the safety of the mission, I conducted thorough examinations of the main structures and essential equipment, spoke with the captain and confirmed the maximum number of passengers we could carry on board. With a prolonged blast whistle, El Venizelos left for Banghazi at 3:15 on Feb 23, the second largest harbor on the Mediterranean Sea in Libya, to help the Chinese out of the chaotic country. Now back to China was their sole desire.

At 09:00 on Feb 24, El Venizelos berthed alongside Banghazi. The port seemed sleepy with only a few containers in the yard. Unexpectedly, two navy vessels sailed into the port, which made the atmosphere tense and everyone nervous. After confirming that they would pose no threat, we all breathed a sigh of relief.

As thousands of people rushed to the vessel, I realized this was the most challenging job I had ever met. We were responsible for checking their ID and nationalities to ensure that Chinese people would board first because space was limited. Many people lost their passport, so we had to ask questions to judge their nationalities. When asked, "Where are you from?" by which we mean the province or city, they answered unanimously with the same answer, "I am Chinese." Looking around, many foreigners' eyes were full of envy. I was deeply moved. At that very minute, I felt that though thousands of miles away, China, our motherland, is always our safe haven, which we can lean on. China, our motherland, always lends her helping hand when we are in trouble. Supported by the increasingly prosperous and powerful motherland, the Chinese people can speak out loud and proud that I am a Chinese. After nearly 8 hours of continuous boarding, 2,898 Chinese people and 13 foreigners were safely on board.

When the evacuees boarded the magnificent ferry, they could hardly believe their eyes. With green grass, clean rooms, spacious and bright restaurants, the ferry provided meals and drinks free of charge. Many people photographed the valuable moment with their cell phones, telling their families they were safe and in very good condition. Fifteen hours of busy work without any breaks made all SWG members exhausted. While we had our first meal at 23:30, many evacuees had fallen asleep.

Due to extreme weather, the departure time was delayed. With 2,911 evacuees on board, El Venizelos departed from Banghazi at 10:30 on Feb 25. We gave a last glance at Libya. Goodbye, Libya, we will never forget this journey. Banghazi was still quiet with no signs of battle. Maybe it was the silence before a storm, but we were relieved that we were on the way home.

We were all sick and could not eat anything during the journey, with the strong cold wind and big waves of the Mediterranean Sea. At 11:00 on Feb 26, the ferry arrived at Iraklion, Crete. Although the evacuees could hardly stand straight due to hunger, seasickness and exhaustion, they were full of good spirits. All disembarkation was well organized. Within 2 hours, all 2,911 passengers had disembarked. A Greek general who welcomed the evacuees gave the thumbs up to them, "Chinese did a good job. We have good cooperation with Chinese." Many evacuees burst into tears, saying, "We are safe! We are free!" Crete is not their last destination, but they knew that they were not far from it.